“The federal judiciary has built an imposing pay wall around its court filings, charging a preposterous 10 cents a page for electronic access to what are meant to be public records. A pending lawsuit could help tear that wall down….”
“Judicial records are public documents that are supposed to be freely available to the public. But for two decades, online access has been hobbled by a paywall on the judiciary’s website, called PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), which charges as much as 10 cents per page. Now Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) has introduced legislation that would require that the courts make PACER documents available for download free of charge….”
“A groundbreaking lawsuit is poised to decimate what is arguably the most unjust, destructive, and it now sounds like illegal paywall in the world, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records, PACER.”
“Federal courts keep their documents locked within a paywalled database called PACER, an acronym for Public Access to Court Electronic Records. To access documents that are by definition public record, you must pay 10 cents per page. Because a great many people—lawyers, journalists, academics, plaintiffs and defendants—need to view these records, PACER is tremendously profitable.
The database isn’t free to run, and some argue that justifies charging people to access it. But a class action lawsuit claims the profits far outweigh those costs. And instead of using those profits to modernize the system, the plaintiffs allege, the government uses them to finance other things. The cost and the crummy tech (the PACER site looks like an artifact of the 1990s) conspire to place those documents beyond public reach.
“It’s quite ironic that the money made from PACER is being diverted to all these other purposes, and yet they’re not even improving the actual system,” says Deepak Gupta, a lead attorney on the case….But a class action lawsuit, which seeks to recover what the plaintiffs say are overcharges, claims the profits far outweigh those costs.
One plaintiff in the suit, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, advocates on behalf of veterans, many of whom represent themselves. “This fee regime is a real barrier for people who are trying to handle their own cases in court,” Gupta said. Two other nonprofits named as plaintiffs, the National Consumer Law Center and Alliance for Justice, identify trends and problems in the legal system by analyzing large numbers of cases to find patterns. Such cases can run hundreds of pages, making them prohibitively expensive, Gupta says….“My position is that PACER should cost zero cents per page and that’s because access to our courts is fundamental to the American system of law,” says Malamud. “It’s the whole business about having open courtrooms, why we conduct our proceedings in the public, and how judges make their decisions based on precedent, not on whims.”…”